Beavering Away on the Farm

I haven’t posted on my blog for an embarrassingly long time now – something I will try to rectify in 2019 – however, a recent assignment on my MSc course has given me the perfect opening to get writing again!

For context: I am part way through a Masters in Countryside Management with Scotland’s Rural College (SRUC). This semester we had the ‘Topical Issues in Modern Agriculture’ module; part of which was to conduct a review and examine the debate around a topical issue of our choosing. Thus, my report ‘Will We See the Wood for the Trees – Has the Beaver Castor fiber a Role in Scottish Agriculture?’ came into being. I may post it on here at a later date, once its been assessed, for those who are interested.

The second part of the assignment is to undertake a bit of Science Communication (#SciComm) and get the main findings of our reports out to the public via social media. Within the remit of the assignment, I have a maximum of 5 minutes to get my message across, so I will be presenting this via video (which is a darn sight harder than it sounds!).

Whilst the video will have subtitles/closed captions, I will post the transcript below, along with some accompanying pictures – as and when internet upload speeds allow! – that were used in the report, for you to peruse at your leisure.

*DISCLAIMER* – Any views expressed in the video are my own, and therefore do not represent the views of my employer.

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00.01 So hello and a belated happy new year.

00.04 I’m Megan Rowland, or for the Tweeps you can find me here @Wayfaringhind:

[holds up a piece of paper with the Twitter logo and]

00.09 Think of this as a budget basement Springwatch episode where I’m going to be talking beavers as part of my MSc project.

00.18 We had to choose a topical- topical debate in modern agriculture. In this case I opted for the reintroduction – discussing the pros and cons of reintroducing beavers into the Scottish agricultural landscape. Drawing any conclusions, even if they are that the conclusion is inconclusive.

00.38 So, for anyone who knows me, knows I am a fairly avid collector of hats. Today I’m going to start with my conservationist hat.

[Puts on a woollen beanie hat]

00.46 So with this on, beavers are a keystone species. Widely regarded as ecosystem engineers, for their ability to change and shape the habitats that they take up home in.

00.58 There’s about two and a half thousand published works on them so far. Looking at a good selection of these, I’ve noticed that most of them seem to be on their effects on ecology and environment, and that it is noted there are winners and losers to every, every case of beavers taking up residence somewhere.

01.18 So, in that case, with my wildlife managers hat on. [Changes hat to a tweed baseball cap] The impacts are mainly on freshwater, fast flowing invertebrate species. Your caddis flies and mayflies and some such. Also, a globally species, which we are home to in Scotland 50% of the world’s population, the freshwater pearl mussel. Which are resident in the streams behind me here.

01.52 In the Highlands and Islands we’re also home to aspen, which is a species of conservation concern. There’s an example behind me here too, [gestures at a tall tree behind] which is very convenient. In Norway they noted beavers will travel a particularly long way to access aspen for winter browsing.

02.10 We’ve had concerns for salmonid species, who rely on waterways like this for spawning. They need the gravel to lay their eggs in, and beavers with their ability to nibble and chew do quite a good job of removing riparian vegetation which is vital for keeping the water cool.

02.30 I’ve also seen areas of bank collapse and resulting siltation into the water is pretty damaging for the gravel beds where the salmonids need to lay their eggs, and also for freshwater pearl mussels. You could say on that front that full protection is definitely sowing the seeds of a conflict.

02.49 So, lastly with my farmers hat on, and in no way sponsored by Norvite [fumbles with hats and notes – the wind blows in the microphone] – I’ve got too many hats. [Dons a black beanie branded Norvite]

03.01 I was invited to the Tay the other week to look at beaver impacts, and it became clear that gaps in knowledge have made the benefits very hard to quantify. A lack of communication and a lack of understanding between stakeholders. The costs on the other hand were very easy to see and measure, in terms of finance and environmental impact.

03.26 Reading through SNH’s report and various other pieces, there’s no mention of increase in species like liver fluke – the parasite that causes liver fluke. Which in a -in an agricultural environment like Scotland with 70% of land being used for agriculture, it’s quite an important factor.

03.47 Also no mention of increased mosquito incidence where, as a species that’s capable of transferring diseases like bluetongue, again for your farmers and pastoralists that’s a fairly important, fairly important factor.

04.02 So! With all three hats on [hums] All of my interests in one go [laughs] We can conclude that their presence is a reality in Scotland. I’m genuinely excited about it, and I think there are areas where they are going to be really useful and they’re going to do good things.

04.29 However, the release in Tayside has shown everything that can go wrong. And it’s evident that wildlife conflicts like this are down to the human players rather than the wildlife a lot of the time. So, we need to accept there are going to be conflicts, and we need to find ways to manage them.

04.48 My main conclusions were we need more research. More focused research into the socio-economic impacts.

04.55 And more research into agricultural interactions with this species because there’s hardly anything.

5.00 And when it comes to management, top-down approaches, prescriptive methods just don’t work.

05.05 I feel that a local, ground-up management system – tailored to each catchment, because they will all be different is going to be more effective.

05.14 So, thank you for watching.

05.17 I’ll have more information and photographs on my blog. I’ll put a link somewhere around here [waves arms around]

05.22 And I’m happy to continue the conversation in the comments below, or on my Twitter page. I’ll put a link in somewhere.

05.33 Ok, thanks for now!

Images

big tree damage - calum mcroberts
A large beech tree, with all the bark chewed off in a foot-high strip around the base. Effectively killing the tree. Image Credit: C. McRoberts
bavaria integrated land use - peter cooper
A Bavarian landscape. Forestry, hunting, farming, beaver ponds, and water storage. Image credit: P. Cooper
tree damage - calum mcroberts
Further damage caused by bark gnawing alongside the main river Tay. Image credit: C. McRoberts
bavaria beaver dam - peter cooper
A beaver pond in summer in Bavaria. Image credit: P. Cooper

 

Reforesting Scotland Land Revival Tour

Reforesting Scotland Land Revival Tour – Cairngorms, 28th-29th of June

I wasn’t sure what to expect from the Reforesting Scotland Land Revival Tour, but I knew it would be an interesting experience whatever happened.

As you will know, if you’ve been following this blog, I am a land and deer manager, so I spend a lot of time monitoring and managing wild red deer populations and am well versed in the deer vs. trees debate. For an ungulate species, you’ll struggle to find one as controversial as red deer in the UK – some people adore them, other people call them vermin – and I was interested as to what attitudes would be on this front too, as well as looking at reforesting efforts in the Cairngorms.

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We started the tour with a trip to Glenfeshie, site of the infamous “Glenfeshie Massacre” – an effort to drastically reduce deer numbers on site in the early 2000’s. Spending the morning on a brief tour of riparian regeneration and chatting to manager Thomas MacDonell about management aspects of the estate; working with neighbours who have different management objectives, the purchase of surrounding estates, intensive deer management, building access paths, bothy management and restoration, past research, and future projects; it was apparent the scale of Wildland Ltd.’s work and aspirations.

I found it interesting for a few reasons; to see for myself the site of the historic cull, to see the work being done by Wildland and reforesting progress, to compare it to reforesting work being done on the estate where I work, and to hear about the plans for developing a montane scrub zone and seed bank (something we are certainly missing from our uplands). On the whole, the goals and aspirations weren’t dissimilar from what many deer management groups are aiming for – though the methods are a bit different, having a billionaire running the show and funding things tends to speed up progress, and removes the concern surrounding income from stalking with clients.

On the vein of land ownership, if Glenfeshie and the surrounding estates didn’t have a, non-resident, billionaire owning them all and funding the work being done, would we see such a joined-up vision for land use? Personally, I don’t think so.

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Photo description: A pebble river bank, bright sunshine and clear skies, on the far side of the river bank a crowd of people around an ATV. Trees line both sides of the river bank.

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After lunch, with a mind brimming with thoughts, we left Glenfeshie and headed back towards Boat of Garten, to visit team at The Lazy Duck – a chance to look at a potential economic outlet from increased woodland.

The Lazy Duck comprises a selection of cosy, timber framed cabins, a hostel, and a campsite. All very homely, thoughtfully built, and simple. With tourism being pushed as one of the main potential revenue streams for Scotland going forward, it was pleasing to see an enterprise that had grown so organically, and that supported a small team of staff and volunteers.

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Photo description: One of the deer fences around the Lazy Duck homestead, an idea brought over from the US – not the deer fence we’re used to seeing, but apparently very effective at deterring roe deer.

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Back onto the baking hot bus – it was cooking by this point and in a timely fashion the air-conditioning died – and onto our final stop of the day, Lynbreck Croft. Now I have followed the progress of Team Lynbreck on Twitter for some time and was quite excited to see the work they’re undertaking for myself.

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Photo description: A white painted metal sign reading ‘Lynbreck’. In the background fields and further behind the Cairngorm hills.

Having been involved with the Scottish Crofting Federation, and the Young Crofters group, I am always keen to see what ideas other folks come up with. On our tour of the croft, I was delighted to see animals being grazed in woodland, and the use of ‘mob grazing’, the fetchingly named “flerd” – cattle and sheep grazed in the same areas and moved on rotation on a regular basis.

There are a range of reasons behind the mob grazing method that I won’t go into here (but take my word there is loads of interesting research and go and have a look). The main reasons are the two very different grazing styles to manage grasses; cattle and sheep act as end parasite hosts for each other’s pests; and the manure they produce is excellent for soil regeneration and a range of insect life (and consequently other species such as woodcock).

I was genuinely delighted to see a #flerd in action, especially grazing in woodland, with plans to establish further woodland pastures and a massive emphasis on soil building and regeneration! This is something I have been banging my drum about for a while. The idea, in a world with a rapidly growing population, that we can have the luxury of single-use land areas (forestry, farming, hunting, etc.) is quickly passing; I believe we have to find ways to sustainably and sensibly use land for maximum benefit – to wildlife, and ourselves – and integrate land uses with each other. In this instance, farming and forestry go hand in hand.

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Photo description: Highland cattle standing in a woodland pasture, the sun shining brightly, but shade beneath the trees.

Wandering to the end of the croft we discussed the choice to use native livestock breeds, saw the pigs, and traversed a boggy area, thick with bog myrtle. Pausing in this area, Lyn explained they are going to establish a range of small woodland copses, which will be harvested on rotation for tree hay – I’ll be fascinated to see how this goes, using species such as willow, and allowing animals to self-medicate too. She also touched upon culling deer – very pragmatic and matter of fact, which was good. We met some of their #LadiesWhoLay, the pest control team…the chickens, who are busy maintaining new hedges; and we wandered up to investigate an area of new native woodland planting.

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Photo description: A boggy area at the end of the croft, thick with bog mrytle.

Unlike more commonly used mounding, they opted to clear and ‘screef’ (clear an area of bare earth) patches across the hillside to plant each tree in – massive respect for using this labour-intensive, but far more natural, method. I absolutely loathe mounding – having had to manage deer in woodlands created by it, you risk breaking your ankle with every step, and I do question its efficacy…but that’s another debate. As it was, using this method, their ground around the base of the trees maintained some moisture – a neighbour who had mounded, suffered drought damage and lost trees, another aspect to consider in a changing climate.

At this point in the day, I was dying with hayfever and starting to get attacked by midges, so while I was delighted to get a chance to look around, I was quite glad to call head back to Aviemore.

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We were joined at dinner by Will Boyd-Wallis, Head of Land Management in the Cairngorms National Park, who gave a talk on projects and work ongoing in the Cairngorms, and the challenges of working with stakeholders who have competing interests and viewpoints – nothing new for anyone who works in land management, but a reason I was keen to go on this tour in the first place – to share what I do and to learn from others. We need to escape our silos and seek collaboration going forward.

—–

The following day we headed out to meet with a forester from Cawdor Forestry at Dava Moor. Starting off, she (awesome to see another lady in the rural sector!) took us up to see an area of around 600 hectares of planting and regeneration…and I was really very impressed! (And I shouldn’t sound surprised, but we’ve all seen examples of truly awful woodland and forestry schemes).

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Photo description: Clear blue skies above. In the background an older pine plantation. In the midground an open area of farmland pasture, with an old barn and cow. In the foreground three young birth trees, four young oak trees in tubes, and a young pine tree.

From what I saw, this one appeared: sensitive to the landscape and form; considered soil types and tree species; left open areas and tracks to allow easier deer management and extraction (brownie points for any forester who does this); considered future harvest (looking at productive native woodland – hooray!); incorporated farming and leaving good farmland pasture; incorporated riparian management and planting (a totally different suite of tree species); and again, took a pragmatic approach to managing ‘pest’ species, in this case mountain hares and roe deer.

The hares make their way over the fences from the grouse moor during heavy snow and knock hell into the young trees; the roe have been simple to cull and remove from the plantation – our guide made the point that good fencing is worth every penny, when it comes to protecting your woodland from deer. I absolutely agree.

Before leaving, we had a nosey at some of the maps produced for the site – soil types, vegetation classifications, land flow and hydrology…great stuff. Who doesn’t love a good map?

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Photo description: Five maps lie on the grass, a crowd of people stand around looking at them.

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My final visit of the day, as I had to leave early, was to Anagach Community Woodland, on the edge of Grantown-on-Spey. The rest of the group would head to Allt Lorgy in the afternoon to look at riparian woodland.

I had been for a wander round the woods in the past, but it was interesting to get the guided tour. Out of all the places we visited, this one seemed (and that’s only my perception), to be most divided and undecided in aims and management. Take deer management (surprise, surprise), some members of the community want deer managed in the woodland because there are quite a few of them, they’re grazing down saplings, and they can be a source of revenue through people paying to cull them – on the other hand, there are members of the community who like seeing deer, and don’t feel it’s appropriate in a community woodland for them to be shot.

It drives home the difficulty faced by land managers and committees, when dealing with the public – and emphasises the ease with which a big land owner, like Anders Hoch-Polvsen can make changes over a large area. What do we want to see more of?

Community land use and ownership would be great to see, if everyone was using the same hymn sheet…or do we continue to have lone individuals owning vast tracts of land, if it means (re)wildling and reforesting?

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This tour gave me a lot to think about, in fact it’s taken me nearly three weeks to process and write about it. The people, their ideas, the different scales of land holding, and finances involved in achieving some of these goals.

I can’t get away from the idea that, while we all want ‘wild’ spaces, we’re going to have to make sure our land delivers to benefit the environment and local people.

I’m looking forward to the second leg, down near Moffat, to see woodland and reforesting in a lowland context, and in a more heavily populated area.

Royal Highland Show: Oxford Farming Conference 2018

“This house believes in paying farmers for more than food.”

This is the motion that we, the panel, were presented with – to argue for or against – in the Oxford Farming Conference‘s debate at the 2018 Royal Highland Show on the 21st of June. Below is a transcript of the speech I gave.


God ettermiddag damer og herrer.

Good afternoon ladies and gentlemen.

Please excuse the Norwegian, but last month I had opportunity to visit Norway – to see some of their land management practices – I was immediately attracted by the idea of Landbruk.

Nominally “Agriculture” – but encompassing farming, forestry, fisheries, hunting, and everything in between.

The main goals of Landbruk are to meet society’s needs:

  • It must produce safe and healthy food of high quality in light of consumer preferences
  • And produce public goods such as securing long-term food production and a broad range of environmental and cultural benefits

Do we have anything in Scotland equivalent to the Norwegian Landbruk?

—-

Well, we have the Scottish Land Use Strategy

It covers the three pillars of sustainable development – social, economic, environmental, and has experimented with the idea of local decision making.

So I’ll ask, how many of you are aware of the SLUS? And its key themes?

Perhaps any strategy we adopt going forward should have a similar key view to Norway, that is, to feed the nation.

The motion of this house is that “…farmers should be paid for more than food”

I would like to suggest we pay farmers TO grow food

Not “we should carry on the current system + payments for nature”

Not “remove subsidy altogether”

But that we should pay farmers for growing food and managing the land to deliver public goods as one and the same thing.

—–

So why do we find ourselves where we are right now?

For perfectly laudable reasons. We all know CAP came about after the war – with good intentions of achieving food security in EU

But how do you design a system which effectively supports farmers from the Arctic Circle to the Southern Mediterranean?

Speaking nationally, has it been a success? In the UK we still import over half of our food, including staples.

We are familiar with the narrative of wine lakes and butter mountains of the 70’s, but the EU still dumps $20 billion of subsidised food on Africa each year.

Meanwhile, for example, we imported £196.5million roses from Kenya, from a water-poor country, for Valentine’s day.

Hindering developing nations agricultural development and slapping them with tariffs if they endeavour to add value to primary products, so we can have cheap food and throwaway flowers.

Back in the UK we’re losing an estimated 3 million tonnes of topsoil a year and have estimated 100 harvests left using our current systems.

All this with a growing call from the public for land use to become ever more accountable.

On that note – What should, or could a post-Brexit Scottish Land Use Strategy look like?

I think we agree we can’t continue as we are – that’s why we’re here today.

Do we continue to pay €220 per hectare to vicariously subsidise wealthy corporates? Growing barley for malting, not food for people to the tune €20million year?

We all like a dram, but surely, it’s a luxury! Can the market not support such non-food products?

So, do we continue down the road of “sustainable intensification”?

  • Of developing practices like feed lot beef?
  • Giving handouts for select “wild” areas and hammering others?
  • Increasing our use of fertilisers, herbicides, fungicides, pesticides – themselves created in carbon intensive systems in response to ever evolving pests and diseases?

Or do we develop/support low-input extensive systems?

  • Encouraging low carbon HNV farming
  • Strategically integrating forestry and utilising varied browsing patterns of sheep and cattle for maximum environmental benefits
  • In many areas of Scotland, these methods currently receive a mere €10 p/hectare – to grow food

A fellow Lantra winner, works on Mull, on zero-sub farm producing grass & clover fed beef. Other colleagues and peers are choosing to run farms without subsidy, because the system is a nightmare for small producers.

We used to farm using low-input extensive systems and sure, we didn’t have the same number of people to feed – but are we capable of feeding them now?

Do we continue to operate in our silos and not endeavour to find common ground with everyone else in the countryside?

There is the old saying “Cheap food isn’t good, and good food isn’t cheap” And changing the current systems will require innovation, and a mindset shift from producers and markets.

—–

Why do I believe subsidy needs a re-write?

Intrinsic in the current subsidy system is the Perverse Incentive. The result of taking a broad sweeping approach – rather than looking at what is needed locally.

We have spent so long subsidising unsustainable practices. Evidenced by spruce in the Flow Country and soil erosion and run off.

Both soil and peat have taken thousands of years to form, hours to ruin, and will take decades to restore – at huge public cost. Because of past subsidy schemes, we’ve removed hedgerows, grown unsustainable crops, and homogenised our methods.

It takes 1% of total global energy to make ammonia for fertiliser – this ISN’T sustainable.

To my mind, any future we have must focus on integration with other land managers, letting communities decide what they need locally, and building resilience into our all systems

—–

I had the opportunity to visit Uganda – an amazing, vibrant country – and I saw people there giving up their farmland to grow non-food products and cut flowers for export – a story shared across the continent. The human population in Africa is growing rapidly – so equally, what right do we have a right to cut back on production in the UK, to protect our biodiversity, whilst importing more and more, and trashing someone else’s ecosystem and culture?

We are just some of young land managers of the future, but if we don’t act and get this right now, we’ll become part of an unremarkable past.

Looking around this showground, we have an ever-growing store of knowledge and research, and must not be afraid to use it to find ways combine food and with nature.

We are in the lucky place of being able to cherry-pick the best of the old techniques, and supplement them with new technology.

Whatever course of action we take, we must realise our choices impact – locally, nationally, internationally.

Going forward, we must be THINKING GLOBAL – while ACTING LOCAL

As they would say in Uganda –

Kufanya kazi pamoja, tutakuwa na ujao mzuri sana

Working together, we will have a very good future.

Asante.

Thank you.


Being part of this debate was a great experience; giving me a chance to reevaluate my own ideas and preconceptions about agriculture, land use, and subsidy; and to think about ways we can move forward.

I thoroughly enjoyed meeting and getting to know the other panelists who I know, from what I’ve seen and heard, will continue to do their best for the future of their industry.

Panel - Rebecca
Photograph Description: The Oxford Farming Conference debate panel standing outside in the sun. Left to right: Colin Ferguson, Sarah Allison, Megan Rowland, and David Lawrie. (Photo credit: Rebecca Dawes)

A Brief Foray to Norway

The 2018 North Highland College exchange trip to Hedmark University campus at Evenstad, Norway, took place at an interesting time; with discussions around land use, rewilding, and wildlife management coming into public awareness more than they have for a long time…

From the start it was an interesting week, covering topics from: the Norwegian attitude to the outdoors and wildlife – reassuringly and enviably pragmatic; to woodland grouse management and predation;  fisheries and river management – with a fascinating wander around the Evenstad hatchery; living with and managing predators; elk (European moose) management, their negative interactions with the road networks – and efforts to mitigate them; beaver ecology and habitat impacts; and a look around the Forestry Museum in Elverum to accompany the forest management we had seen around and about.

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Photo Description: In the foreground, a small campfire; behind it an axe buried in a tree stump; in the background, a view out over forestry and a valley, with snow still visible between the trees.

On the first day we met with a group of students, who ran a workshop in the woods about Norwegian wildlife – rounded off by sampling some beaver meat, cooked over the campfire. A quiz followed by a fire lighting challenge, highlighted the ease and comfort the Norwegian people have in being outdoors. This was a reoccurring theme over the week – a knife carried on the belt at all times by students and teachers; the small fire lit at every outdoors workshop for a kettle of tea and pot of coffee; the common-sense approach to health and safety.

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Photo description: A beaver skull facing the camera and to the right, being held in hand, with the camp fire in the background.

During our stay we sat in on lectures from both teachers and PhD students, where they discussed black grouse and capercaillie predation by foxes and pine martens; fisheries management and research into river connectivity and restoration; the history of Norwegian wildlife legislation. The Evenstad campus offers a range of study and research opportunities – from a year long guiding and wildlife management course (food for thought for future UK deer and wildlife managers?), right through to Masters and Doctorate level of study. In return, each North Highland class did a short presentation about our courses, and the roles we fulfil whilst on placement.

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Photo Description: A large wooden carving of a ten foot tall capercaillie

Some of us took a run out up North to the Jutulhogget Naturreservat – a large canyon, the largest in Europe I’m led to believe and, according to folklore formed by two fighting trolls many moons ago. On route we stopped at the giant silver moose, a relatively new addition to the Hedmark County road network. It is, alongside brightly painted sets of moose antlers hung in the trees, an attempt to get drivers to stop, slow down and take a break. According to our hosts, driving through mile after mile of forestry (unless you are a bit of a silviculture geek) can lead to a lack of concentration; tiredness; lack of awareness; and consequently, accidents when animals, such as moose run into the road. The antlers and roadside attractions are a means of waking people up, creating topics of conversation, and breaking up a journey.

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Photo Description: A giant 20 foot tall silver bull moose, as tall as the trees behind it.

During our trip we discussed and saw some of the effect of predators, with a field trip to see the remains of a wolf-killed, bear-scavenged moose. Sat around a campfire, on the farmstead we drank tea and sampled Norwegian brown cheese, while our guides talked us through the “Big 4” – wolf, bear, lynx, and wolverine. As well as each species ecology and lifecycle, they chatted about the methods of surveying, and matter-of-factly about culling, where and when it is deemed necessary. Again, that calm approach to wildlife, and to resolving predator:human interactions and conflicts, was remarkable – I feel it is worth noting that some 84% of the Norwegian population support hunting, even if they are not directly involved with it, around 10% of the population actively hunt – with the main opposition coming from the urban population in Oslo.

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Photo Description: A print out of a photo from a camera trap of a bear eating a moose carcass, held up where the camera trap had been, demonstrating the site is only a few hundred metres from the farm house

On our final day of fields trip with the students, we spent a morning fishing – unsuccessfully, as the sunshine over a few days had caused a large amount of snowmelt, and the river was fast and high as a result. Still, it was pleasant to get out and about somewhere new, and to meet a different group of students and discuss other elements; such as what they want to do once they complete their studies (everything from carrying on in education, to running events and groups to help young people with alcohol and substance abuse issues to get outdoors and into nature), and the interaction Norwegians have with the Saami peoples in the North.

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Photo Description: A fire blackened kettle boils away on a campfire on a river bank with the river and some trees in the background

That afternoon another group took us out to see a vacant beaver lodge and dam near a farm, and in the evening, we sat out on a river bank near an active lodge and watched the beavers going about their business. It was interesting to see the effects the beavers had had on the waterway, for example; the farmer had to intervene and insert pipes into the dam to allow some water to spill away to prevent his fields flooding; the beavers excavate ditches to allow, themselves to move around and transport felled tree materials; and the amount of vegetation and trees that had been gnawed away.

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Photo description: A beaver dam, with a couple of pipes added in by the farmer to aid drainage

On a personal note, much like my attitude to predators, I feel these animals fill a niche – as a keystone species, they change and alter habitats, they do what they do, and they do it well – and on principle I wouldn’t object to seeing them in the UK – however, IF we have them, there will be times when we will have to manage them. We cannot ignore that the landscape they reside in is dominated by people – for recreation, farming, industry, forestry, game management, crofting…

In this instance, the farmer was quite happy to have beavers in situ, as long as they could manage the waterway to mitigate for damaging flooding effects, and cull if necessary. I wonder that if the same was done in Scotland or, once beavers have recolonised as I have no doubt they eventually will, in England or Wales, would the public be quite so accepting? Food for thought.

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Photo Description: A taxidermy moose calf in the forest museum, with a taxidermy bear behind it

Our last day in Norway consisted of a trip to Elverum to visit the Skøgmuseet, or forest museum. It really was fascinating and highly enjoyable – covering all aspects of historical and modern day Norwegian forestry (some lessons to learned for Scotland…?), Norwegian wildlife, the historical and modern-day face of Norwegian hunting and fishing, and the changes in land use. Again, the awareness of the history and culture of the country, and its peoples, were remarkable, and I believe contributes to the attitudes and understanding most Norwegians have for the countryside, wildlife, and food (both wild and farmed) – and something we need to bear in mind when we come to consider land management in Scotland in future.

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Photo description: A comparison of the same site; between some ladies farming and milking cows in 1918 (Anders B. Wilse/Norske Folkemuseum), and a family out hill walking int he same location in 2005 (Oskar Puschmann). The accompanying text “Setring er avløst av rekreasjon og friluftsliv” – translates to “settlement is replaced by recreation” (happy to be corrected)

Lantra Learner of the Year Awards

This is a copy of a guest blog I wrote for Scottish Land and Estates, following the Lantra Scotland awards.

As it is, the last few weeks since Lantra Scotland’s Land Based and Aquaculture Learner of the Year awards ceremony have gone past in something of a blur. I’ve found myself mainly trying to catch up on paperwork; but also being asked to talk at different shows, attending events, conferences, and all sorts of stuff – it’s been so interesting; and attempting to get back to a routine…with mixed success!

When the Scottish Land and Estates team asked if I would write them a guest blog; about young people in rural areas, the opportunities available, and where I see myself going; I was happy to do so, but I’ll add the caveat that I can only write from my personal experience, and I’m sure other folk will have views and perspectives!

At present, I am studying with the North Highland College, part of the University of the Highlands and Islands family but finish my course in June; this has prompted me to look forward and think about the future.

I know this coming year I will be involved with a few ventures, extending on from Lantra. One of these is the Rural Youth Project. An international project, looking at the challenges facing young people in rural areas, and then taking its findings to policy makers to try and create more opportunities for rural young folk. I’ll be travelling, researching, tweeting and blogging as much as usual, and will be experimenting with vlogging this year too.

On a work basis, I am teetering between continuing to work with my current placement provider or becoming self-employed and working as a contractor. We’re living in an interesting climate – globally, environmentally, politically – and I am still information gathering, with regards to either option. I feel there is a lot of pressure today for people to make snap decisions – sometimes it does no harm to sit back on your haunches and thoroughly weigh up all options and outcomes.

Originally something I didn’t enjoy too much, I am now keen to continue my education going forward; focusing on integrated land management, the opportunity cost of sustainable development and utilising natural capital. I’ve looked at some of the courses SRUC have on offer (sorry, UHI!), and am in the process of applying.

I was asked by SLE to discuss what opportunities I see for younger folk in rural Scotland. Now the fact that projects such as RYP are up and running, would suggest there aren’t huge opportunities for rural youth. Again, writing from my own perspective, to get where I am today, I have had to have a dogged perseverance and a degree of luck. I’ve also taken quite an unconventional route into academia and work.

I was studying a BSc in Environmental Science but felt it didn’t meet my needs or aspirations. As such, I began to work part-time, and undertook voluntary work for just shy of three years to gain experience in the sector I was interested in. Whilst volunteering I applied for a number jobs in the Highlands, usually getting to interview, but being presented with the old catch-22 of “lack of experience” – most young people, especially in conservation, will be familiar with this one!

While volunteering, I became more and more interested in sourcing food sustainably, and in integrated land use. This piqued my interest in wildlife management and hunting, especially in a woodland context and following a more Scandinavian model. I had the opportunity to spend a season away from the Highlands, working on a low-ground estate in Perthshire. While I was there, it became clear that if I wanted to achieve my ambitions, I would have to retrain. As such, I signed up to the National Certificate course in Gamekeeping, run by North Highland College, a land-based course, rather than classroom-based.

The NC year proved very interesting, and I followed this with a HNC in Game and Wildlife Management, which I will conclude this June. On a positive note, everyone on either course is moving into work in rural employment, and in conversation with colleagues in forestry and agriculture most of their students are following a similar route. This underlines that building skills on the ground is, in my opinion, one of the best ways forward for young people in rural areas. There are more education options all the time; distance learning, apprenticeships; but luck and “who you know” definitely plays as big a part in finding work in rural and remote areas, as anything else.

Winning the overall Land-based and Aquaculture Learner of the Year award is still taking some time to get used to. It was a big surprise at the time, but I’m pleased my passion for my work and where I see the future of land management got across to the judges. I hope the award will boost my platform in coming years, and I can continue to promote some of the changes I would like to see; more resilient approaches to a changing landscape and climate, changing demographics, and a more integrated approach to land use.

 

Uganda 2018 – Visiting the “Pearl of Africa” for the First Time

Where to begin….?

I truly don’t know where to begin talking about this study trip. I was in Uganda for just over a fortnight, and saw and learned so much in such a short time. I’m going to be processing it for months I think.

I was braced for some things, like the wildlife (which was incredible and still blew my mind); but I didn’t know what to expect from towns, people, food, farming…living in the Scottish Highlands doesn’t really brace you for the sensory overload that is Kampala.

Truly, I loved it. What a country.

The first week was spent touring around the various National Parks with Gerald Kasirye, of African Safari Masters. Gerald was a fantastic guide, very knowledgeable, and super patient with me taking photos of pretty much everything, from elephants to ants – I would fully recommend him and his company. We traveled from Lake Mburo, to the Bwindi Impenetrable Forest, to Ishasha, to Queen Elizabeth National Park and back to the city – too much to recount in one blog (but I’ll write separate posts and link them in over time).

The second week was split between Kampala and camping and fishing up at Murchison Falls National Park with friends. A totally different week, and heaps more tsetse flies…but totally incredible. Nile perch, semutundu, hippos at the campsite, BBQ’s of fresh caught fish, leopards…

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The Power of Murchison Falls. Photograph Description: Murchison Falls waterfall, where the River Nile cuts through a gulley in the rock; towers of white water, the air full of spray from the waterfall, and a rainbow sits in the air in the foreground. The ground was shaking with the power of the water – it was incredible.

I’m going to keep coming back to Uganda in this blog as there is too much to talk about in one go. Wildlife management, National Parks, farming, culture, food, forestry will all get their own posts at some point and be linked back here.

The only downside of going to Uganda? The fruit was so good out there, I can’t eat pineapples, mangoes, or anything else back home now without being a bit disappointed! Can’t wait to go back…

Looking Back on 2017 – October, November, and December

Last one of these for this year, I swear…

October

By October the stag season was in full swing. It was thoroughly enjoyable, despite the weather, which as decidedly dreich (despite the sunny photo below!). Stalking in Storm Ophelia was kind of exciting…

At the end of the season, I went on a pilgrimage of sorts to see The Monarch of the Glen, by Edwin Landseer, when it visited Inverness on its tour around Scotland. It is a wonderful painting, and much bigger than I had imagined. Well worth seeing if you get the chance!

November

This was a busy month. The torrential rain continued as we made a start on the hind cull. I attended the British Deer Society Highland Branch meeting, where a talk was given by my colleague (@Clynelishmuir); on the past, present and potential futures of deer stalking and management. I took part in the Field To Fork competition, run in collaboration between BASC Scotland and SNH. As a final perk, I got to take one of my closest friends out hunting for his first deer – we had a great day and came back successful!

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December

This last month really has flown… More hinds, more storms, more snow, more rain. Lots of hot chocolate. I shot a hind earlier in the month, with an interesting health issue, which you can read about it here, and I also shot a calf with a broken leg that I wrote, what proved to be, a very popular Twitter thread about – I’ll try and write a blog post about it too. For the non-tweeters!

I also went hunting with a lady who has been an email acquaintance for several months, we had a fantastic couple of days and parted as firm friends – it was wonderful to meet someone who thinks on my wavelength! I’ll be deer stalking with her again and several other women in the New Year. I am delighted more and more are getting into hunting – watch this space for 2018…

Finally, one of my definite highlights of the month, and the maybe year, was visiting the Scottish Deer Centre. Being someone who usually sees deer through binoculars or a rifle scope, and only close up once they hit the deck, I cannot describe the joy it gave me to see red, fallow, and sika deer up close and personal. I really am a bit of an ungulate geek, but honestly, I think I was more excited about this than I was about Christmas!

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And that’s that! 2017 in four rambling posts. It’s been action-packed at times, and I am incredibly grateful and privileged to have done the things I’ve done. Not sure what my resolutions are for next year, all I know is that there are interesting, deer-filled, times ahead.

Roll on 2018, eh?

Looking Back on 2017 – July, August, and September

Quite frankly a bit amazed that you’re still following to this point…

July

This was a busy month! More roebuck stalking in July, more nest checks and camera trapping. Our areas’ Deer Management Group partnered up with SNH to run a Herbivore Impact Assessment training day for group members. From my point of view, this was a really useful day for a host of reasons; as well as further building relations with SNH staff (who cannot have been more helpful in my experience), I think it was a confidence booster for land managers in that it de-mystified a lot of the survey process. Empowerment through education. Never let it be said you can over-teach anyone, or that you ever stop learning.

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I had a pretty fantastic day out stalking with a couple of friends, where we sat and watched a hen merlin feeding her two chicks. We stayed there for nearly half an hour…all thoughts of deer forgotten (for a change!), it really was quite marvelous.

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What else happened…? I dragged my brother out to help with HIA’s; I saw my first slow worm (which was amazing!!); and we went out with a researcher from Forestry Commission Scotland who wanted to sample the aspen trees on the estate, this was really interesting and will hopefully help us profile the genetics of trees in the region.

August

On a recommendation from a friend, I started reading David Petersen‘s ‘Heartsblood: Hunting, Spirituality, and Wildness in America‘. I thoroughly enjoyed this book, Petersen manages to articulate in so many ways the various aspects of hunting, and I enjoyed his writing style, which is almost conversational. I’ve since been lent another book of his, but this consists of a collection of essays from various authors.

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The rest of August involved helping deer management group members carry out HIA’s on their estates, the start of clients arriving for the 2017 stag season, and a visit to a new native woodland with a Forestry Commission Scotland policy officer I met at the Integrated Land Use Conference.

September

The stag season was really getting underway by this point, with clients 6 days a week, and cleaning and preparing trophies on my day off! Busy as it was though, there was always time to find new things and appreciate the surrounding wildlife – while out stalking I came across my second slow worm, who I’ve been informed was probably full of eggs, judging by her size and condition…which was pretty exciting!

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Final post tomorrow…stay tuned…or something.

Looking Back on 2017 – April, May & June

Continuing on from yesterday…

April

April was a month of highs and lows. I went heather burning for the first time (…an experience all of its own). I dragged my brother out to the hill to survey aspens and badgers; and I attended the University of the Highlands and Islands Integrated Land Use Conference. The major high point for me was harvesting my first roe buck… I had shot my fair share of red deer, but taking my first roe for the larder, accompanied by good friends, was a satisfying feeling. Whilst red is a staple, and sika is delicious, I think roe is a highly underrated meat…the saddle in particular is superb.

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May

May saw continued roe buck culling, but the main event was attending the British Deer Society AGM, in Wales. If you’re not already a member, and are interested in deer, their health, stalking, or management, then I recommend joining the society.

The AGM provided a really interesting couple of days – an enjoyable aspect of which, for me, was meeting a couple of women who worked as Forestry Commission wildlife rangers. It can be quite isolating, being one of the few women in the UK who does my job full time, especially living in the Highlands, and it was really wonderful to meet a couple of others and find we had been faced with the same issues in our careers – from struggling to find decent hunting clothing, to the opinions of surrounding society on our work and why we do it.

June

June passed by without much incident. I spent most of my time running camera traps, surveying nesting bird species, and helping out vaccinating lambs on a neighbouring farm. I also attended a peatland restoration day, run by Forestry Commission Scotland, which was really interesting and ties into work we’re already doing on the estate. My favourite moment was coming across this deer calf on the hill. A real joy!

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Onward tomorrow for July, August, and September…

Looking back on 2017 – January, February & March

In the spirit of originality, I thought I’d do a wee review and look back over the best bits of 2017 in the days leading up to the New Year…

It’s been a interesting, varied, and challenging year. It’s cliche to say it, but I really have learned a lot and am looking forward to the future, I know it will bring new adventures and challenges.

So…

January

I started 2017 by travelling to Hungary with friends, and then onward alone to Austria, to stay with friends who hunt with us in Scotland. I’m a real sucker for mountains and alpine scenery…I hope to go back again in summer before too long. I’ve been invited to go hunting chamois, which would be interesting indeed…

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February

February 15th saw the end of the 2016-17 hind season. Learning to stalk deer in the Flow Country provided some real learning experiences, but I thoroughly enjoyed it. It’s a landscape like no other, a test of endurance, skill, and how waterproof your jacket is (answer: not very). The scene below is of deer management on our peatland restoration area, which in the past had been inappropriately planted with lodgepole pine (Pinus contorta). For the ground to recover, we require low densities of deer in the area, but due to the nutrients entering the soil from the mulched trees, it’s become their equivalent to an all-you-can-eat buffet.

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March

The main excitement in March was helping SNH with the helicopter count of our Deer Management Group area. I wrote about it here. Alongside this, other jobs on the estate involved managing deer in new native woodland plantations, and planning heather burning for the season, once a weather window opened.

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Tomorrow – April, May and June…

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